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Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode

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Category: Adobe Photoshop

Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode - Matthew Page shows us how to create better black & white conversions from colour files using the Lab mode and a gradient layer.

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Matthew Page shows us how to create better black & white conversions from colour files using the Lab mode and a gradient layer.

I’ve always like a good black & white image, and have come across many different ways to convert colour images into black & white using Photoshop. I stumbled across this method one day while searching the web and realised I could make a couple of adjustments.

The original idea came from Greg Gorman Click on the Learn link, and look for the Black & White Conversion tutorial PDF. The results are just fabulous from this technique!

With this tutorial the end results remains the same, it’s just the execution that I’ve changed. Instead of creating a masked solid colour layer I maje use of the Blend If layer option, and also turn the whole thing into an action that leaves the original colour image as the background layer.

Step by Step

1 Here’s a sample photo of Corinne Drewery from Swing Out Sister, taken at the Jazz Café in London

2 If you are doing this manually, copy the image to the clipboard (Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C)

Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode

3 Now create a new image (File>New), and change the color mode to Lab Color, and click Ok

4 Paste the image (Ctrl+V)

5 Now, select the Lab channel by pressing Ctrl+1 (you’ll see greyscale)

6 Select all (Ctrl+A) and copy to the clipboard (Ctrl+C)

7 You can now close this image without saving (Ctrl+F4, N)

8 Back on the original image, now paste (Ctrl+V). You should see a new layer appear (which you can rename as appropriate) and the view will be black & white.

Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode

9 Now the magic part: Hold the Alt key down and add a Solid Color layer (from the layers palette). Fill in the values as shown. (It’s the multiply blend mode that’s important) and click OK Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode

10 From the colour picker, choose a tone that you want. (I chose a value of #EBDDB2)

11 Now double click on the Toning layer in the layers palette (on the grey area to the right of the word Toning) so you get the Layer Style display.

12 You need to change the Blend If options for the Underlying Layer by holding the Alt key down and dragging the white triangle all the way to the left. The values should show Underlying Layer: 0 0/255 Click OK to close this dialog. (This step takes the place of the Select Luminosity stage in the Greg Gorman guide, and uses no extra memory.)

Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode

13 Now you can add a curves layer on top to control the brightness and add some contrast, if necessary. For this image I just produced a slight curve shape (In 160, Out 198), but you may need a shallow S curve.

14 Since the black & white is layered, you can toggle between the colour and black & white version. If you want to save space, ditch the background layer (the original colour image).

Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode

 

Maximising Tonal Range
Here’s a little addendum that I’ve found useful in producing black & white images with good tonal range.

1 Add a temporary layer – Gradient Map

2 You will need to select the Grey Value Stripes If you can’t see it listed, press the little circle/arrow in the gradient drop down list, and select Special Effects. (The Grey Value Stripes adds an Ansel Adams’ style zoning system.)

3 Now your image will be somewhat posterised, however, this posterisation is useful in visualising what tonal values exist in the image.

4 Leave this gradient map on the top of the layers

5 Now adjust or add the underlying curves, levels etc and you should see the posterisation change as the tonal range changes.

6 You are trying to get an image that looks smooth and detailed even when posterised

7 When done, simply hide or trash the gradient map.

Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode Converting colour to black & white using the Lab mode
Here's the final colour original and the version converted black & white

You can download the action here: BNWLAB.ZIP


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